Learn About Crohn’s Disease Symptoms

Quincy AdamUC Learn

Woman Holding Stomach
Crohn’s disease is a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that can affect any part of the GI tract.

However, Crohn’s most commonly affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon. Since Crohn’s disease symptoms aren’t often discussed openly due to their personal nature, a person experiencing symptoms may not know how to manage and live with a flare—or whether they’re suffering from Crohn’s, irritable bowel syndrome, or simply a prolonged stomach virus.

Unlike a virus or even the less-severe IBS, symptoms of Crohn’s disease tend to be long-lasting and only grow worse during a flare if left untreated. Crohn’s disease symptoms can include the following:

Diarrhea

Persistent and frequent diarrhea is one of the most prevalent symptoms of this disease. Some patients report cases of diarrhea as many as 10 to 20 times a day.

Rectal bleeding

Crohn’s disease sufferers usually experience bleeding, either in the stool or in the toilet bowl after using the bathroom. This bleeding occurs as a result of the inflammation and ulceration present in the GI tract and can vary in intensity and volume.

Abdominal pain and cramping

As with any GI tract related illness, abdominal pains and cramps are a factor. The pain can range anywhere from mild, occurring from time to time (such as immediately before a trip to the bathroom), to severe and prolonged. Nausea and vomiting can even occur in the more severe stages of a flare.

Urgency

During a flare-up, the need to have a bowel movement can come up instantly and with great urgency.

Fatigue

If other Crohn’s disease symptoms such as diarrhea and bleeding are present, it follows that the sufferer also feel fatigued due to dehydration, inability to absorb nutrients and general illness.

Low-grade fever

If infection has occurred as a result of a flare, low-grade fever may be present. Guidelines as to when a fever is a sign of a more serious problem vary from person to person, so it’s important to have a doctor’s advice when experiencing a fever.

Feeling of “fullness” in rectum/bowels aren’t evacuated

Tenesmus, or the feeling of pressure or fullness even after a bowel movement has occurred, is a result of inflammation in the colon and/or rectum. This inflammation can also cause constipation or the incomplete passing of stool during a bowel movement.

There are also secondary Crohn’s disease symptoms, which can be a problem for anyone suffering from any form of IBD. They can include loss of appetite, weight loss, dehydration, anemia due to blood loss, and infection.

Since Crohn’s disease flare-ups stem from problems with the immune system, other symptoms outside the digestive tract may develop.

  • Joint problems occur in 5% to 20% of patients with Crohn’s disease and can actually lead to a form of arthritis that can resemble rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Eye problems can occur in 11% of Crohn’s sufferers. Ulcers on the cornea and/or inflammation of the whites, iris or blood vessels can occur.
  • Skin conditions can affect 10% to 20% of those with Crohn’s. Mouth ulcers are the most common condition, though less common are painful, spreading ulcers on the legs.
  • Liver and gallbladder disorders affect 10% to 35% of people with Crohn’s disease. Cirrhosis, gallstones, or Sclerosing Cholangitis can occur, and less commonly, bile duct cancer can develop.
  • Low bone mass occurs in 3% to 30% of people with Crohn’s. This chance increases in patients who take corticosteroids to control symptoms of Crohn’s disease. In fact, more than half of patients who take steroids on a long-term basis develop osteoporosis.
  • Kidney stones: According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, kidney stones can be more common in Crohn’s patients than the general population, especially when the disease affects the small intestine. People who have had their small bowel removed are at higher risk due to dehydration. Their urine is more concentrated, which can lead to stone formation. Symptoms can include sharp pain, nausea, vomiting, and/or blood in the urine.

Complications such as fistulas, ulcers and even bowel obstructions can develop over time as more flares occur. But with careful monitoring, along with medication and a doctor’s care, Crohn’s can be managed.

If you’re experiencing Crohn’s disease symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible. Flares seldom lessen in intensity on their own; in fact, the symptoms will only get worse if left untreated.